Dikos Nitsaa’igii-19 (“The Big Cough”): Coal, COVID-19, and the Navajo Nation

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Both in an absolute sense, and in a comparative sense, COVID-19 is infecting and killing people inside of Navajo Nation at a higher rate than in nearby states.2 This Article investigates how U.S. energy or mineral extraction policy—particularly regarding coal and uranium— weakened Navajo health and may have contributed to the COVID-19 infection crisis on Navajo. The relationship between U.S. mineral extraction and the health vulnerabilities currently being exposed on the Nation raise issues of administrative law, Indian law, and finally, Tribal and federal governance. This Article also contributes to the literature in environmental justice, natural resources law, and energy law. Methodologically, this Article attempts to integrate legal, epidemiological, peer reviewed, journalistic, and ethnographic sources. Due to the pandemic, opportunities for in person research were limited. In their absence, Indian Law scholars and Tribal officials have reviewed and corrected my work Energy policy on Navajo has been characterized by “abusive resource extraction arrangements.” I argue that a history of inequality, neglect, and disregard of the energy and health needs of the Navajo people by the U.S. federal government has played a part in the high mortality rates caused by COVID-19 on Navajo.